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A lesson in journalistic ethics - April Avison

One of my favorite conversation topics among my journalist friends and colleagues is that of media ethics.

We are trained to seek truth and deliver it in an unbiased manner. The flip side to the argument is that in a money-making business, someone has to be concerned with what sells papers and nets good ratings. Lately the scandal stories of Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant and Martha Stewart have dominated the headlines and TV news programs. Journalists are beginning to ask themselves where to draw the line in reporting sensationalist garbage.

I think things have changed over the past few years in the news, and it will certainly be interesting to see where it goes in the future. Carl Bernstein and his Washington Post colleague Bob Woodward inspired many young people to become journalists when their investigative reporting in the 1970s unearthed the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation. They were the real thing – gritty, hungry newsmen who ate, slept and breathed their story. Despite the leader of the country telling them they were liars and a disgrace to their profession, they kept after the story for the purpose of delivering the truth to the people of America. They did it the old-fashioned way, without the Internet and advanced research sources we have today. They didn't make up quotes as it seems many who call themselves journalists are doing today.

Bernstein addressed the topic of journalistic ethics to a crowd in Tampa, Fla., last week. The local newspaper reported that Bernstein blames modern media outlets for what he calls "the triumph of idiot culture." He said that much of today's news has deteriorated into gossip, sensationalism and manufactured controversy.

According to the newspaper article, "That type of news panders to the public and insults their intelligence, ignoring the context of real life, he said. Good journalism, Bernstein said, ?should challenge people, not just mindlessly amuse them.'"

Another argument is made that, in addition to scandal being able to sell papers, maybe that's really what people want to read. Maybe scandal is simply more interesting than actual news. But I don't think so. This newspaper, for example, makes such an effort to be involved in the community and know our readers that we're told, quite frankly, when we publish something that readers don't think is newsworthy. And we're told when we publish something they find interesting or valuable. I hope readers will continue to help us navigate through the tricky process of making those determinations and tell us what you'd like to read in your local paper.

And I, for one, believe that honesty and accuracy are much greater components of a news story than a big juicy scandal ever will be.

April Avison is the city editor of the Daily Herald. Her column appears on Mondays. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at aavison@henryherald.com.